(Okay, here’s the ugly truth: I’ve hit writer’s block like a wall and until I power my way through it, I’ve got to post something. So I’ve fished this review for a tabletop role-playing game out of my files. Normalcy, such as it is, will resume tomorrow – I hope.)
When you sit down to a game, you expect the game itself to be reasonably unbiased, which means you don’t expect it to favor the player anymore than the GM.
When you play Paranoia, that assumption is WRONG.
Paranoia was released in 1984 (oh, the irony) by a company called West End Games. The concept is very simple: you, the player, are going to die.
Okay…that’s possibly oversimplified. Here’s the long version:
In the far future, mankind lives in a utopian city controlled by the Computer. Mongoose Publishing (the current owner of Paranoia) describes the Computer as a “well-meaning but deranged” machine. A closer approximation might be imagining Portal’s GLaDOS as half-blind, aggressive, delusional mother hen with heavy weaponry.
The Computer has established many rules to keep everyone safe. You, the player, are not told these rules before the game starts, nor are you allowed to see the book. You are told to Be Happy, because the Computer Wants You To Be.
Oh, wait, it gets better.
There is one rule you are told, which is that mutants are to be killed. This is to give you, the player, a head start, because you are a mutant.
It’s not enough of a head start, because the creators proceed to put stumbling blocks in your path.
The first of these is that you work for the Computer (everyone does) and are given a mission to complete for it. However, you also work for a department (such as the military) with its own mission. You also work for a secret society and it has a mission too.
Failure of any one of these three missions could mean your demise. In fact, someone might be setting you up as cannon fodder and the mission(s) might just be a cover. Or some of your companions’ missions might be to kill you. And if these don’t get you, the city’s bureaucracy is aggressively mis-managed. You might get killed by a mislabeled grenade.
But if you die, the complicated nightmare is over, right? You can sit back and laugh as your friends get themselves killed, can’t you?
Not a chance.
Your character has five clones, which will be activated as needed. So there’s no getting out of it by dying.
But, strange as it sounds, Paranoia is not a bad game. It’s detailed, well-thought out, and character creation and dice rolling are pure and simple. (You’ll need 1d20. That’s it.) The ridiculous nonsense that goes down while you try to do your job in a society that won’t let you is funny. Dark and twisted funny, but funny all the same. It does make one smile.
And in a place where Happiness is Compulsive, that’s very helpful.